My Very First Lent
I mentioned last week that Lent was not an important feature in my home when I was growing up. I knew about it, but it was just this vague concept that had no bearing on our lives beyond occasionally dictating which hymns we sang in church. Giving up something for Lent was not a concept with which I was familiar until I was older.
My husband and I decided to start observing Lent at home fairly early in our marriage. We were still Methodist at that point, which made it a bit of an odd custom for us, but we wanted to do it anyway. I think in those early days we were just attracted by the novelty. Here was this thing that had been done by Christians down through the centuries, yet in our own little community of faith it was virtually unheard of. It didn't start out as a way to draw closer to God, but merely a way to do something new and different.
Deciding to give something up for Lent was the easy part. The hard part was deciding what, exactly, we were going to give up. We listed all of the obvious choices. Chocolate. Sodas. Fried food. We just couldn't choose. Then we looked at our lifestyle. We both sang in the choir at our church, but had recently fallen into the habit of staying home from choir practice on Wednesday nights because there was a television show that we wanted to watch during that time. We realized that if there was a Lenten discipline that could actually be effective in strengthening our faith, it would have to be giving up television. So we did.
Life Without TV
We've been doing this regularly for fourteen years now, so I feel I can discuss it with a fair amount of authority. When the television is a part of your daily routine, and then you decide to do without it, the first week is the hardest. First, there's the question of what to do with your time. The gap that once was filled by the magic box is now empty. Boredom is a common sensation during those first few days. Second, there's the craving. Yes, craving. During the first week of Lent I crave TV like a junkie craves his next fix. This has nothing to do with needing to be constantly entertained, and everything to do with the fact that I tend to get heavily invested in my favorite television shows. I fall in love with the characters. I go deep into the world-building aspects of the show, comparing it to similar stories and looking for plot holes. If it's a show that's in reruns and I'm binge-watching it, I become quickly addicted to the satisfaction that comes with checking one more episode off my list of things I need to watch. When Lent begins all of that gets interrupted, and it doesn't feel good. But like I said, I only struggle for the first week. After that, everything changes.
I remember getting frustrated in the early years of marriage with the fact that my husband loved to watch sporting events on the weekend. He would work all week and by Saturday I would be coveting his attention, but instead of giving that attention to me, he would give it to a football game or golf tournament. I can remember gliding through the house like a ghost, feeling completely invisible to the one person who mattered most in my life. When we ditched the television, Saturday became a day for doing things together. This was the main reason Lent eventually became my favorite time of year. Without the constant buzz from the contraption in the corner, we were free to interact with each other like actual human beings.
When Kids Come Along
Yes, our kids give up television along with us every year. I sometimes question whether I'm right in enforcing this rule. After all, giving up something for Lent is supposed to be a personal decision, not something your mom makes you do. But the positive effects of spending six weeks without TV far outweigh any misgivings I may have. I'll tell one story to illustrate my point.
It was not Lent. I believe it was in the summer. We were going camping for vacation, which meant a week with no TV. The kids bickered in the back seat of the car during the entire drive to our destination. They whined and complained about every little thing during our first day there. But then, gradually, a change took place. They became friendlier. The smiled more. They played. They explored the woods. They did all the things kids are supposed to do, and they were happy while they did it. When we packed them into the car at the end of the week, there was no bickering. They just chattered away happily as we drove toward home. But then we stopped at a hotel. We had decided that the drive was just a little too long to make in one day with two small children in tow, so we pulled over and got a room. And the room had a TV. And the kids watched it. And they started complaining again. They started fighting with each other again. When we got back in the car the next morning they were in a bad mood which lasted the duration of the drive.
I've seen this effect on their behavior every year when we, as a family, give up television for Lent. I think the reason is that television makes us withdraw from others. It takes us to a world where nothing exists but us and it, and when something comes between us and it we get angry. We don't like it when we're invested in a program and the phone rings. We don't like it when someone else wants to watch something we don't want to watch. I've had those feelings myself, and I can see them in my children as well. And I see all of that go away for six weeks every year. When we pull ourselves out of the haze the television casts on our daily lives, we begin to value spending time together instead of spending time in our own private worlds.
Paying it Forward
Also in last week's post I wrote about the call to give back to society during Lent. I said that this is one area of Lenten discipline with which I struggle. Well I've decided to start with something small. Since my kids have become preteens, they have become regular little couch potatoes. Physical play does not come as naturally to them as it did a few years ago. So this Lent, in the free time given to us by the absence of TV, I've started taking them outside once a day. We take walks, ride bikes, go to the park, explore nature trails, etc. I'm aware that this is only giving back within the confines of my own family, but I have to start somewhere and, as we all know, charity begins at home. Hopefully I will soon find ways to take the next step, into the world, as I continue on this Lenten journey.